30hands Learning Blog

Scratch Engage Your Students
Ericbraun_linkedin_head_thumb_mini Posted by Eric Braun on March 30, 2013 2 comments
It all began when I heard Mitch Resnick speak at TEDxBeaconStreet last November. I had heard about Scratch before, but Mitch made with want to really try it out. With his infectious smile, he told about how his 83-year-old mother used Scratch to create a Birthday card for him thanking him for creating scratch (and for being her son).

After that, as things go, I kept running into people who have been using Scratch with their kids or their students. A few even admitted that they liked playing with it themselves... "My name is X and, yes, I am a Scratch addict." 
In January, I started teaching a course on Intro to Computers. I didn't want to teach it. It sounded boring. But the dean asked me to teach it, so I thought about it. It's a required course, because everyone needs to be digitally literate. That makes sense, but did I need to be the one to teach it? Then, it occurred to me that if I thought it was not the most interesting topic, the students definitely would not be interested in it. That's what changed my mind -- the challenge of making Introduction to Computers interesting for the students. I picked up the phone and told the dean I would teach a section.

The one thing I find that engages students the most is getting them involved right away in team projects, so that's what I did. I'll write more on that in another post. Needless to say, things started off pretty well. Students were collaborating, using all sorts of technology (30hands, Word, Excel, Windows, browsers, etc.), and there was a pretty good level of engagement. Still, there were a few students who did not engage on their own, who needed a little too much prodding. One of my goals is to get students to think for themselves and take the initiative to figure things out and forge their own way, but I had to lead some of these students a little more than I wanted to.

One day, I attended the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) annual meeting. After a discussion between Governor Deval Patrick and Scott Kirsner, the audience was invited to ask questions. A group of students and their teachers asked how they could get Computer Science to be a required part of the curriculum. They were enthusiastic and left an impression. As I walked out of the hall at the end of the event, I noticed that the students were standing around a table playing with tablets, computers and remote control cars. I felt compelled to stop by and talk to them. My discussion with these students energized about learning was clearly a highlight of the day. They showed me apps they had created for Android tablets using AppInventor, an offshoot of the MIT Scratch project. They told me how they learned Scratch and Alice and HTML and Javascript and ...

This encounter with the students from Advanced Math and Science Academy (AMSA) was the final push I needed. I decided to try a Scratch day in my class as soon as I could. After getting the IT department to allow Scratch to be installed on the computers in the lab, I was ready. In preparation, I reformatted the Getting Started wtih Scratch guide to be landscape instead of portrait and run as a presentation in our 30hands course. Then, I created an online assignment on the calendar for the students. There were two parts to the assignment:
  1. Follow the presentation and try out the tasks in Scratch. Explore as much as you want.
  2. Hand in whatever you create with 100 words on what you learned or what you thought of Scratch.
The results were enough to make me smile for days. The students were so engaged in "playing" with the app and creating things. Almost everyone explored beyond the basics, which is what I wanted. Students created all sorts of things. Of course, there was the story of the shark sprite that eats the cat sprite (complete with getting the cat to hide after it is eaten). Below are some of the comments from the students:

"It was a very exciting experiment for me."

"Good afternoon,
This was a fun class i wish had more time to do more with it.
I know my kids would love this!!
You are doing a great job of teaching us about computers
Thanks and have a great rest of the day"

"After working with the program Scratch, I learned how to use the material. I leaned how to make them move, hide, show, talk, make sound & etc. I also learned about how to layer things, how to make things have motion & etc. I actually liked working with this program. It was really fun and entertaining. I enjoyed messing around with the different choices to make things happen. I wouldn't mind working with this again."

"Hi Professor, I don't know where is my cat now."

By the way, the "I wouldn't mind working with this again" came from one of those students who was not very engaged in class before. Was this success? Well, I believe it was. Once we engage students, they start to pay more attention to everything. If we open their eyes, they change their perspective. I don't know if I'm out of the woods completely yet with those students who were less engaged, but at least they have some new perspectives and a little bit of a change in outlook. I'm pretty sure they will rememebr the day we worked on Scratch. Ibet they'll tell their friends and families about it. Maybe they will remember that they had to figure things out -- solve problems -- and take the initiatve to create something of their own. Maybe they will realize that they were learning on their own, and their teacher only provided minimal guidance. I hope they think that techniology can be fun, and that they can take ownership of their personal learning if they see a purpose.

My next step is to open up a discussion with them to figure out how Scratch might fit into their team projects. Perhaps, they can include a Scratch component as a part of the final presentation. Every small step helps. Once we "scratch" the surface, we are a little closer to making an impact on the students.

2 comments so far.

Carmen_sm_thumb_mini Carmen Ferrara on April 04, 2013 @ 11:09 PM

Nice post!

Ericbraun_linkedin_head_thumb_mini Eric Braun on June 01, 2013 @ 02:02 PM

Here's a link to some great resources to teach kids to program.


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